Home > Uncategorized > Putting Women First

Putting Women First

I’m probably going to get myself in a bit of trouble here – I had a thought a couple weeks ago about a female founder that I buried away. Normally I’m quite willing to throw my ideas out in the open as I think we learn and grow when we’re open about our ideas – the crazy ones, the politically incorrect ones – all of them. For those of you that know me I’m sure I’ve offended or bothered all of you at least once. If you know me well enough you probably realize my intent isn’t to hurt, but to provoke new thought and get an honest response. I like to iterate my way from crazy to sane but that path can be misinterpreted. OK, so enough up front fluffery- you’re probably thinking “What the hell could Paige be thinking about a female founder that he wasn’t willing to just throw out there”. Honestly there’s probably a ton of things but here’s the one that’s been bothering me:

“A pregnant founder / CEO is going to fail her company”

As an angel investor, a free-wheeling free- agent in the world of entrepreneurship, I’ll normally say anything that comes into my head. But now, as the cofounder of BetterWorks I thought “maybe I should let this idea slide away – no need to piss off the world of female execs out there”. But the reality is that women in the workplace is an incredibly important topic. We’re missing out on a ton of talent out there and we need to take this seriously.

The Situation: I was contemplating an investment in this awesome crowd-sourced funding company in LA called Profounder. I love the vision: helping local brick & mortar businesses get funding from their community. The founding team, Jessica Jackley & Dana Mauriello, are incredible ladies with exactly the spirit and attitude I’m looking for in founders. We’ve talked extensively, had lunch together and I saw first hand the amazing talent & drive these two bring to the table. And then, a week later I find out Jessica is pregnant…and this dirty little thought pops in my head. I’m thinking how in the hell is this founder going to lead a team, build a company and change the world for these businesses carrying a kid around for the next few months and then caring for the kids after. I can’t say I personally know anything about it but birthing & raising kids seems like the toughest job around. And now I have a founder who has to be a CEO and a mother.

The Decision: Ultimately I decided to invest, namely because I gave a commitment to invest and decided that pregnancy shouldn’t impact my decision. But what concerns me more is that I’m normally very equal-opportunity. In fact I really like working with female entrepreneurs and wish we had more of them. I have quite a few female entrepreneurs in my portfolio companies but the reality here is that I almost didn’t invest and I’m sure a ton of us decide not to invest, support, promote or work with women because of this whole “marriage / pregnancy” hurdle that most women will face in their career. I normally tell people I don’t care about your sex, race, religion, sexual preference – these things just don’t mean a bag of dogshit to me.

Yet, I almost didn’t invest so it must mean something and I’m definitely not as equal opportunity as I thought. And even though I ultimately decided to support Jessica and Dana, there are a ton of Jessica’s out there that won’t get the same treatment. And this brings me to my big question: Should I go out of my way to support female entrepreneurs? Should I give female executives, founders and others women an advantage in funding, hiring & promoting?

I talked to Jessica this weekend at Summit at Sea and told her my thoughts. I was a bit ashamed – walking up and telling an entrepreneur you’re backing that you have doubts, particularly something like this, is never an easy chat. But it is something we should do; I really love being direct and we do owe it to each other. Surprisingly Jessica wasn’t upset and I asked her if it was cool for me to write about this.

She gave me a warm yes and so here are two key points rolling around in my head right now:

  • I have doubts once I think of you getting married, having kids and being distracted from work. Right or wrong this is something I’m thinking
  • We need more women in the workplace. Look around at founders, boards and execs and you’ll all realize women are grossly under represented in the workplace

Recognizing this doubt I’m now asking myself if I should give preference to women. What do you think?

And before you answer, take the time to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk. I watched this last night as I was thinking about this topic and she brings up some great points. But the issue I have here is that Sheryl’s talk is directed at women – telling women what they should do. What I want to know is how should we as men deal with this?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Serena
    April 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Paige, very interesting article. This is something all employers struggle with, yet due to HR rules, no one can talk about it. I am glad you ultimately invested (the concept sounds great) but am equally excited to see what happens and to see Jessica prove you wrong. Thanks for sharing this and the TED video. @Serena

  2. Jaime
    April 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Paige, I commend you, you’re almost out of the “but my best friends are ________” (fill in the appropriate demographic) syndrome. We’re both victims of the male-dominated and driven Marine mentality ingrained on our very souls. We won’t be all the way to equality until these types of thoughts are erased from our subconscious and our nagging little subliminal devils start sending questions about real issues.

    I just sat in a meeting where 9 of 12 people were not males, it’s our weekly operational meeting. This female-dominated group controls and manages all domestic operations for our organization, which are located at more than a hundred offices, and employ nearly 4,000 people. To say this group wields power is an understatement. Is there gender inequality in the room? Just a bit, the 4,000 employees are only 40% men. However, compared to other similar organizations, I think that is a ratio everyone would be proud to share. I’m proud to be a member of this anomaly, when it comes to demographics, of an organization. In fact, I’m willing to bet two of your paychecks that while other organizations are struggling to reflect their own demographic profile, our team is working on real operational matters.

    It reminds me of my buddy’s story from Desert Storm. He and his team infiltrated Kuwait City and were shooting it out street by street. Some of the local underground fighters were women. He said he didn’t think about them as “women” until someone later, during debriefs, asked how they fought? He said the team’s only concern was how much firepower they could effectively lay down. As in combat, so should it be in business. A person’s ability to contribute to the endeavor to help it succeed should be the ONLY metric, not how society says they should pee.

    Anyway, Peace Out and Semper Fi.


    • paigecraig
      April 12, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks Jaime – been to long buddy! Semper Fi brother – good to hear from you. Pretty amazing – never knew so many women held leadership positions in your agency; thats solid!

  3. April 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Interesting article Paige, I appreciate your honesty. Not many men in the workplace would actually acknowledge this belief. I have seen it first hand for many years working in Corporate America. I raised three kids pretty much on my own and I worked in a male dominated automotive industry within the technology group.

    There have been many a promotion that putting everyone equal, the male with the wife at home caring for the kids wins before the single mom caring for the kids. She may have the same experience and education but it is just how the game gets played.

    Since then, I have founded my own software based business and I believe that the experience gained during my time as an employee is helping me better define those that I will hire and help in building my company.


  4. April 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I am glad you invested in Jessica. She will prove you wrong. You should definitely continue to believe in and invest in female founders. We are an extremely motivated bunch and work just as hard, if not harder than most men.

    • paigecraig
      April 12, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      In this case I’m happy to be wrong all day and every day 🙂

  5. M. Cosgrove
    April 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Given my training as a social scientist, I’m always uneasy about making any kind of generalization. However, I still recognize the value of well supported (i.e. evidenced) generalizations in simplifying our social reality that is, at its foundation, extremely complex. When working with generalizations, it’s always useful to remember that they’re just that, a “generalization,” and that there are always cases to the contrary. There are no “facts” about social life. Also, implied in the use of generalizations is that you’re speaking of a majority (a statistically significant majority) and that the majority of cases you generalize about indeed hold the attribute you ascribe to them. So, I’m taking a risk here in speaking in generalizations, which is a “risk” because generalizations are so easy to debunk.

    Men and women excel in different, yet equally useful capacities. Call it what you want: millennia of Darwinistic natural selection leading to biological differences or a product of cultural and structural socialization; men and women differ in respect to many sensual (as in how we sense and therefore interpret the world) behaviors and propensities. Does this mean that there are not people with cross-gender abilities that defy the expectation? No.. But, all in all, there are differences that seem to be “across the board” for most people. Many of these generalizations, or “stereotypes,” are the ones we are all familiar with: men are strong, athletic, individualistic, rational, and therefore make great leaders, etc.; whereas women are emotional, community oriented, multi-taskers, etc. etc. etc.

    An interesting book recently published (though I have not read yet and really want to read soon) and written by a male lawyer may be of interest to you: “Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that Women are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else,” by Dan Abrams. Abrams wrote a book examining the available research on gender differences of whatever flavor the research topic was concerned with. To summarize briefly, he found that women tolerate pain better; women have a better sense of smell and taste; women are better at endurance sports and their bodies more efficiently process oxygen; women are better long-term investors; women were found to be less corruptible as cops and are more effective as political leaders than men; male physicians were twice as likely to be sued than women physicians; and that the internet is giving women more of an advantage. What are men good at? “Men are better at parking, they’re better dieters, they have better distance vision, they read maps better. One study suggests they even treat their friends better,” though “men’s biggest problem is that they’re too confident and women’s biggest problem is that they’re not confident enough.” However, Abrams concludes, “Truth is, I think the evidence is overwhelming in favor of women.” And guess what?? Abrams has received backlash from men’s groups. He states, “I already had one men’s rights group send a petition to get me fired from my job. They wrote, ‘Dan Abrams is penning sexist book claiming male inferiority.’ But this book is not about my musings or opinions. This is me approaching the topic like a lawyer. Is there some hyperbole in the headline? Sure, but the reality is the trends here are significant and important. The goal of this book is not be viewed as a feminist book but an objective book. Someone with no bias is examining the evidence and coming forth to say it’s compelling. I’ll get mocked by many men, but a woman who made the same findings would be discounted for writing this book because of her bias.” (Quotes taken from a transcript of an interview with Abrams: http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/life/why-women-really-are-better-at-almost-everything-q-a-with-author-dan-abrams-2460114) The point is, there seems to be evidence that shows there are indeed gender differences, and that women do excel in many critical respects.

    One generalization with respect to women workers, as you point out struggling with and that Sandberg also addresses, is the question of women workers of child bearing age being potentially distracted from work by the desire, or actuality, of having a family. Is she capable of juggling the responsibilities or wok and home, of putting in the effort needed to be successful at her job, will she even want to after becoming a mother or as her children grow? However, many of the career choices women with families make are decisions made from many factors, factors having to do with the amount of help and support she receives from family, spouses, friends, and the workplace, essentially support from the larger social fabric in which she is embedded and must navigate in living out her life… Do women drop out of the workforce in order to take care of their families? Yes they do, but that phenomenon is part of a bigger picture and does not necessarily mean a woman is less capable in the workplace because of it, or less determined, or less desiring of promotions. It is just the reality in which many women live, and some may hold off on applying their selves, of going for that promotion.. Many of the factors that are involved in making life decisions with respect to one’s work are those that no single person can change, but require large-scale social readjustments in thinking.

    Sandberg states we must strive to get more women to “sit at the table,” a euphemism for getting more women to push for advancement. She says (I paraphrase) women underestimate their abilities; they’re often to first to back down, to not push to be heard or promoted. This speaks to how women still struggle against the embedded, socio-historical consequences we find ourselves in, that ugly p-word (patriarchy). Even though women have made monumental strides, particularly since the 1900s, crucial aspects of the social psyche, the collective unconscious, have not changed. Human beings are smart social creatures: we pick up subtle clues from our environment and adjust our behavior to “fit in.” It is survival. Even though the nature of “male preference” has changed in magnitude over time, it has not eliminated the preference, and that preference is still sensed day-to-day by both sexes alike.

    So should women be promoted in the workplace? The answer is yes. Women provide their own unique capacities, and it would be a huge mistake not to take steps to develop and promote them even if she ends up being the CEO with a baby on her hip or must excuse herself for 10 minutes from the board meeting because her child’s school just called. Should there be a conscientious effort to promote women? Yes, an activity still determined (via research) to be a worthwhile activity since women still lag behind men in the workplace on numerous factors (pay, promotions, and depending on industry/occupation, numbers).

    However, I think to focus only on promoting women in the workplace, their social roles and functions, would be an equally huge mistake. What employers often feel trepidation over in hiring women should be addressed from the male worker’s perspective by employers as well. The function of raising families with respect to how it impacts the workplace needs to be normalized from the male worker’s perspective, perhaps via incentives, programs, and codification in administrative policies that focus on the importance of work and family. A man’s role with respect to child-rearing needs to be a more explicit part of the workplace culture. We need male CEOs with children on their hips, and given that there are more single fathers raising children than ever before, I think there is even more legitimacy to explicitly addressing men and their families’ needs in the workplace.

    My two cents…Ok, well, two dollars, ha ha ha!!

    • April 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      this is a very good summation of many of the issue surrounding the subject, as a fellow social scientist I am in agreement.

  6. April 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Paige, you raise a really valid concern here — but I think the question isn’t about a mother’s role as a CEO (a role that can achieve simultaneous work-life balance) but that of a founder. That concern can be easily nullified and women can be just as great (or disastrous) of an investment as men — it’s all about the timing.

    *IMHO, If a woman can’t honestly say that she will not have children in the next 3-5 years, then she has no business starting a company.*

    A startup and subsequent market domination takes intense focus, energy and TIME. Being nauseous for nine months, then having to be awake every 2 hours for breastfeeding, is not conducive to that. A woman truly can have it all — we can leave legacies as great entrepreneurs AND as great mothers — but it requires timing your life properly.

    As for the arguments that women are just as good as men and blah blah blah…that’s just insulting. Aside from the above concern, pigeonholing and segregating entrepreneurs based on gender is a fruitless method of mitigating risk. When you cut through the noise and look to the true entrepreneurs, you’ll find some great and some not-so-great (albeit fewer) females, as you will males.

  7. April 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Man, my girlfriends are going to give me so much shit for saying this, but…I found Sandberg’s video mildly interesting. I think it would be more aptly applied to meek people in general. Men don’t prevent those women from sitting at the table — their own insecurities do. I think the danger with all of these “women’s groups” is that they often provide a safe haven for women to cower into, alleviating their need to go out and hang with the big boys. And that’s where the fun is at!

    • April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      I long ago (as a child) realized that boys & men seemed to be having a lot more fun than the girls. Perhaps it was just in my nature, but all of my friends then and now (with a few glorious exceptions) are men. Much against my better inclinations, I have accepted an invitation to join a women’s group, but decided to go anyway. Why? Because they only want strong, self assured business women, and that is what I am. We will be meeting tonight. I have just stepped out of my comfort zone!

  8. Joel Vandenhouten
    April 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Wow! Has that elephant been in the room this whole time? What a beautiful, multi-faceted, make-everyone-squirm-in-their-seat proposition. I bet Thanksgiving dinner is fun at Paige’s house; Politics, religion and gender equality all get served up with the turkey. 🙂 I’ll bring the stuffing!

    Seems like no matter what you say about a serious issue in a short blog, it is going to sound shallow and trite. True analysis of complex issues doesn’t lend to sound bites unless you are trying to push an agenda. (Not criticizing. I have done it many times) Best case–you have some fun. Stir the pot and sit back to watch the passions boil over.

    When making any decision I like to start with the end in mind. What am I trying to achieve? Profit you say? Will this investment make money? Are the fundamentals sound? Does the business model make sense? Are the founders smart, savvy, passionate, innovative, creative, energetic, unencumbered, etc? Bottom Line: Can they pull this off?

    What? The founders are actually flesh and blood humans? Well that screws up everything. People are unpredictable to say the least.

    When I was in the business of trying to quantify, predict and influence human behavior I had a fool proof formula. Rule #1: People “generally” do what they “perceive” to be in their best interest. Rule #2: People are frequently indecisive about their best interest. Rule #3: Sometimes people act contrary to their espoused best interest. God, I do love people in all their unpredictable, chaotic, glory!

    Of all the games in the casino, I only play Poker. Not on-line poker or video poker. Real, live, look-your-oponent-in-the-eye, poker. I love the challenge of trying to predict the behavior of my fellow carbon based units. The finite statistical analysis is there (52 cards = x possibilities), but it is the human element that makes it interesting. I love to ask my opponents the question, “Can you beat 2 Pair” or “Did that card really help you”. Occasionally the answer I am looking for lies in the verbal response, but most times it is not what they say at all. Sometimes its about their eyes, body language or other “tells”. Often times the decision is subconscious. Little things you pick up over the course of the game; a feeling that I get that I can’t quite articulate, but I know to my core is true and right. My opponent is cautious, bold, careless, scared, fearless, indecisive, egotistical, etc. These things ultimately inform my decision making at the poker table and in life.

    So, I imagine and hypothesize that Paige’s decision had more to do with what he actually knew and learned about the business venture and the people in question (Jessica and Dana) over conversation and lunch. Any sane and logical investor would be well within bounds to ask the question, “Given American cultural and societal norms, will a pregnant woman be able to pull this off, or will the attentions be split to the point of detriment?” Whether consciously or unconsiously Paige weighed the relevant factors, connected the dots, and made the decision that Profounder was an idea thats time had come; That Jessica and Dana were Kick-Ass entrepreneurs who were going to going to change the world with their idea, and that nothing was going to stop them! Bravo!

    Disclaimer–I don’t know any of these people.

  9. Tamera
    April 14, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Paige, okay, glad to hear that you “don’t care about sex, race, religion, sexual preference”(particularly the part where they don’t mean a bag of dogshit to you–it always make me smile when someone’s got the balls to just say it out loud and proud). However, have you considered that you would probably also have the baby reaction to a woman’s age? Now I ask you, did I really become less competent when I hit forty? At least being concerned that a woman may face some serious challenges in the conflict of work and child is a reality. Imagine not only being a woman but being in your forties–oh dear! PLEASE. Sorry if this sounds cliche, but the truth is I am better now than I have ever been–I am happy, healthy, wise, and much kinder than I was when I was younger. And, I still know how to kick some major butt! I’ve owned at least two successful businesses so far in my life and have every intention of continuing that success. There IS a huge pool of talent out there in women–HUGE, including those of us past our 20’s–and just think, we are no longer in the passing along our genes pool. Hey, there are benefits to everything. Cheers!

  10. April 14, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Being an attorney at a tech startup, I am in the unique position of being involved in two male dominated fields. I don’t want any special treatment because I don’t need any. Women’s groups offend me because their existence implies that we, as a gender, REQUIRE special help.

    That being said, when it comes to a female founder getting pregnant, I think Paige’s concerns are valid and warranted. It is a sensitive subject, but the fact of the matter is, pregnancy and subsequently having a baby is a huge project. It’s a gigantic endeavor, a serious commitment. When you are starting a company, 100% of your attention NEEDS to be focused on your company. Having a baby is like having a gigantic side project that is guaranteed (I don’t care how you spin it, motherhood requires lots of energy and time) to take your focus away from the company. Anything less than 100% focus SHOULD raise red flags for the investor. You wouldn’t want the founders of the company you’ve invested in to have another full time job, then why would you disregard the fact that they’re pregnant?

    Please don’t give us any special treatment simply because we’re women. Extend us the courtesy of the same level of scrutiny you give to male entrepreneurs, please. 😀

    • April 20, 2011 at 12:38 am

      Do you have children?

      I felt precisely as you did…until I had children.

      At that point I realized that there were markets and customer needs I couldn’t have related to before; clients I now could relate to that I couldn’t have before; products and revenue to create that I couldn’t have done before. Because until you’re a parent, you cannot understand what it is like to be a parent.

      Parenting also creates a certain focus that you didn’t have before.

      It is a very challenging juggle. But if one is committed to serving these markets “right”, one must include them. And they should be involved in a substantial, strategic way.

  11. Jennifer Reuting
    April 14, 2011 at 5:49 am

    All I have to say Linda, is that thank god you like dogs more than babies — otherwise our office mascot would probably be in danger. Kidding… well, sort of. 😉

    Paige, your little innocent blog post stimulated quite the debate in our (mostly female) office today. Leave it to you to always be causing trouble!

    After some thought, I just wanted to say something. I don’t know Jessica, but I do know Dana – and that’s a woman I would invest in, pregnant or not. Like Joel’s incredibly insightful comment — it’s all circumstantial.

    I’m open to the possibility that while I may not be able to handle both roles — motherhood and founder — Jessica very well may. And that would make her a better woman than I…

  12. M.Cosgrove
    April 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Don’t forget that getting pregnant is sometimes not planned… You could very well invest in a woman founder who ends up knocked-up by accident and who then chooses to take care of her two infants (business and baby). And also don’t forget that some of the most organized, tenacious, “let’s get this shit done” people are mothers. I think it boils down to the woman and if she’s the type of go-getter you’d invest in without children (I’m sure your judgment of this type of personality is already honed) then she’s the type of go-getter you could invest in with children.

    Lastly, where’s the discussion of founders-businessmen-fathers in all of this?? Is the absence of this discussion indicative of the persistent assumption that men’s family responsibilities are less, more hands-off, and therefore men are safer business “bets.” Or is it because it’s still socially acceptable for men to be altogether absent figures in the family? This again places a heavier burden on women in the reproduction of the family, and to address this requires large-scale social “engineering,” changes of attitudes; why not tackle this openly and explicitly via the workplace?? If we were to truly “level the playing field,” then discussions such as this one would be moot.

    • jvandenhouten
      April 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      “…to address this requires large-scale social “engineering,” changes of attitudes; why not tackle this openly and explicitly via the workplace??

    • jvandenhouten
      April 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      Speaking as one who has conducted (or at least “attempted” to conduct) large scale- social engineering experiments in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, (Many of which were in favor of gender equality), I will tell you that I do not want my workplace to be the target of such engineering by anyone. Too many people with too many competing agendas. (A woman’s right to choose! Abortion is Murder! Gay rights! Ban gay marriage! Gender equality! Misogynists against Mothers! etc.) As an investor you can certainly chose to be a proponent of whatever causes you ascribe to, and many investors do effectively integrate their human and social agendas. That is why I say, “Start with the end in mind”

  13. April 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    The latest McKinsey report on the case for gender diversity underlines the improved productivity,innovation and profitabilty that more women in higher ranks bring to any corporation. This is why we are investing in gender diversity. We regard this as an untapped oppotunity to create wealth while empowering women.

  14. April 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    First, thanks to Paige for the honesty, humility, and desire to start a dialogue on this important issue. In addition to him airing general concerns about the dirty little thought (“A pregnant founder / CEO is going to fail her company”) that popped up in his head, I’m glad he asked the specific question he did – specifically: “…how in the hell is this founder* going to lead a team, build a company and change the world for these businesses carrying a kid around for the next few months and then caring for the kids after?”
    * “this founder” would be me

    I don’t blame Paige for doing his job as an investor by bringing up his concerns about my company or my plans for its future. I agree with sentiments expressed by others who have commented on this post, however, and think the it’s very unfortunate how often this line of questioning is focused on women alone. I’ve never heard someone ask the same of a Founder/CEO/Dad, worrying about a slightly different dirty little thought: “An expectant father / CEO will fail his company.” The idea that mothers are the de facto “foundation parents” to a new baby (or two) perpetuates the stereotypes and structures that make it more difficult for anyone, male or female, to balance work and family in the first place.

    But let’s step back a bit. This post isn’t just about a big-picture issue, it’s also about my personal journey and ProFounder. I haven’t responded until now, not because of a lack of interest or desire to participate in this dialogue but because, frankly, I’m busy running said company. I expect to be even busier with not just one but two babies (yes, to be clear, I’m expecting twins) arriving this fall. And as all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritize. You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest. So, while Paige’s post was intriguing and important, it wasn’t urgent – until it came to my attention that my team was somewhat bothered by it. When they saw one of our investors questioning my abilities as a leader, they were confused and frustrated. And so I am now replying on their behalf as well as mine.

    Paige and I met before I was telling anyone besides my family and my staff that I was expecting. As is typical, I announced it officially right at the standard 12-wk mark. Nearly all of my 30+ investors responded immediately with enthusiasm and congratulations, and many of them also offered to help think through post-maternity work plans, which I greatly appreciate. Paige is our most recent investor, so he missed the big official announcement a few weeks ago (I told him as soon as I saw him).

    From the start, ProFounder was created to make sure anyone could be empowered to pursue their dreams through entrepreneurship. Together with my investors, we agreed on strategies and goals, key milestones, etc. I promised them our team would work its hardest to meet these goals, and we’ve been doing so ever since. I never did, and never would, promise them that I wouldn’t fall in love, get married, have a family at some pt. Why would I? Who in their right mind would actually ask this of a person? And what would it even mean to keep a promise like that?

    Parenthood will be a new experience. As with any new experience, with lots of variables and forces beyond my control, it’s hard to know what will happen in the future, or exactly how I will feel when I’m in it. But, I’m comfortable with this – I am an entrepreneur – and this doesn’t mean I can’t have a carefully considered plan, informed by the advice and wisdom of other leaders I respect. I enjoy my conversations with Paige and if we’d had more time to talk live before this blog post, I’d have simply responded in answer to the “how the hell [will she make it work]…” question. I would have said that I have an incredible cofounder and an amazing, talented team. They believe in my leadership, my ability to serve them and our vision – with or without kids. I would have talked about my strong support system, including a husband who is a true partner and my greatest champion. I would have mentioned that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford full-time help if/when we need it. And I would have told him that, like most professional women in my situation, I have been thinking about this season of my life for a very long time. (Disclaimer: I’m just talking about my circumstances. This isn’t a complete or prescriptive checklist for anyone else, or a statement about what all women should have or do if they’re in a similar situation.)

    There’s another aspect of this conversation about a founder of a company to have the goal of achieving balance at all when in start-up mode, and I’d like to address that too. Do I work long hours? Weekends? Of course. Pull all-nighters when needed? Sure. But working until I fall asleep on my laptop and doing nothing else on a regular basis makes me less effective. Turns out that getting at least a little sleep, exercising regularly, having healthy relationships outside of work, spending time with my family, reading a book for fun now and then, etc. makes me a better Founder/CEO.

    In fact, this isn’t just how I run my life, but it’s how my cofounder Dana and I run our company. We created ProFounder with the intention of shaping a healthier – and more efficacious – culture that gives everyone on our team the opportunity to be a full person, not just a cog in a machine. We not only encourage but celebrate each other’s victories in and beyond work. At our last team retreat, we reported our proudest moments personally and professionally; on the personal side of things, every single individual shared some detail about how the most important relationships in their lives had become better since they began working at ProFounder. This model is working. Business is thriving. We are flourishing. And we’re trying to give every entrepreneur we work with through the ProFounder platform the same options for their own endeavors, starting with the chance to include investors who care about them as human beings – who are invested not just in their business but in them as people.

    When my titles expand from just Founder/CEO to Founder/CEO/Mom, I may have a different kind of load to bear than that of other entrepreneurs, especially if we’re talking about ones who fit the old Silicon Valley stereotypes…[I’ll let you fill in the blank here with the obvious demographics/attitudes that come to mind]. I’ve tried forcing myself to fit more into this profile during other seasons of my life and would like to report that, shockingly, there’s really no correlation between eating take-out everyday or skipping that 30-min jog again and great entrepreneurial success. If anything, I’ve found the opposite to be true.

    I have no desire to fit that old stereotype. I desire to live a life that is rich in relationships both in and outside of work. I desire to reap the many different rewards that are abundant in my job, working in this incredible start-up every day. I want to surround myself with a team, including investors, that challenges me and helps make me better. I want to live my life transparently, and if being a happy, successful Founder/CEO/Mom serves as a helpful example to anyone who wants to use me as such, great.

    Mostly, I want to get back to my team and work on our business. So, a quick closing thought: what I, and my team, believe – and this is ProFounder’s mission statement verbatim – is that all entrepreneurs should have access to the resources they need to succeed through the engagement of robust, supportive communities. ProFounder exists to champion all entrepreneurs, and we have a special place in our hearts for those who don’t care to pitch their companies to the same old “usual suspects” investors – and this is a great thing for the world! Through our platform and tools, we are changing the way start-up and small business funding can be done, by engaging and empowering communities to invest. We hope these communities might think differently about what makes a great company, or a great leader. I hope we can show more and more people a path that includes sharing their entrepreneurial journey (and, the financial and social upside they will create) with people who know their story, their context, maybe even their families, and believe in them all the more because of it.

    Thanks again to Paige and all for the dialogue. Now, back to work!

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:48 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful response, on two issues in particular. “Distractions” apply to all humans, regardless of gender. Good leaders are good at ensuring they have the support they need around them. That’s not gender specific, although as some earlier posters pointed out, it may be that women are generally better at building their support teams.
      Best of luck with both your ventures – Profounder and the twins!

      I hope that in future you’ll ask the same questions about potential distractions in an investment company leadership team, regardless of the leaders’ gender.

  15. Lisa Low
    April 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    An incredibly authentic reply from an outstanding and beautiful leader. So proud of you and the changes you are making happen in our world!

  16. April 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    @Jessica your reply made me yell “WAHOO!” out loud. Thank you for so eloquently writing everything I’ve been thinking about this whole thread.

    I am an entrepreneur and a mom. My kid came 4 years after my business was started, and it’s been another three and a half years of juggling. Before my son was born, I faced the concern that becoming a mother would somehow change my dedication to my business and “de-rail” all that I had built up. I came to one realization: if the power of the pull to my yet-to-be-born child was sufficient to supercede the power of the pull to my business, then it would be a pretty mighty personal transformation and there’d be no point in fighting it. As it happened, my ambition and drive for the business didn’t dim one iota – in fact they were amplified by the challenge I was facing.

    CEOs/Founders leave their businesses for all kinds of reasons that investors can’t forecast. Sickness, death, injury, religious epiphanies – investors can try to filter out the people they think are ‘flakey’ or risky but in every business there needs to be a succession plan. That should be no different whether a CEO is taking up skydiving or having a baby. If the business venture is sound enough to warrant investment, the family status of the founder shouldn’t be a concern, any more than potentially dangerous hobbies, provided that a clear chain of command and succession plan is in place for ANY eventuality – and I’m talking about male or female-led businesses. It’s just good business practice to cover your risks.

  17. April 20, 2011 at 12:51 am

    For years I thought there was no use for women’s business groups, and that women should pipe down and just get the work done. That was until I had children.

    That’s when my BS-meter started going off in overdrive.

    I realized that there were markets and customer needs I couldn’t have related to before; clients I now could relate to that I couldn’t have before; products and revenue to create that I couldn’t have done before. Because until you’re a parent, you cannot understand what it is like to be a parent. No amount of imagination can get you there.

    But dads don’t get this slack. Just the mothers.

    Parenting creates a laser focus that you didn’t have before. Through parenting I have learned to operate at a totally different capacity. I don’t hesitate to say what I think, because there is not time to do business any other way. Who has time to screw around? Frankly you hear so little from us because we don’t have time to linger on chat boards. And we rarely have time to find each other. So we’re a fragmented sisterhood, in constant motion, with a phone attached to our ear and doing the Blackberry in the bathroom.

    It is a very challenging juggle. But if one is committed to serving these markets “right”, one must include mothers. And they must be involved in a substantial, strategic way.

    It’s not something every mother wants to do. But if you have one that does, my advice would be — grab her. You have a golden nugget on your hands.

  18. April 20, 2011 at 1:14 am

    Paige, first of all, I applaud you for taking the plunge with Jessica. That shows cojones and I think it will pay you back in spades.

    I am a mother of two raising funding now.

    There is a huge amount of self-selection that happens before a mother (or mother-to-be) gets in front of a potential investor to pitch. We’re not doing this for fun — in fact we probably don’t even want to be pitching, knowing how low the odds are for us.

    Standing there pitching, I know that doing this startup thing was not a fly-by-night decision. It was a full family decision that took a long time to get to. We budgeted. We put off collective expenses — roof? nah. Preschool? let’s switch to the cheaper one. And don’t even talk about childcare expenses. My runway is $3 per every $1 of my colleagues’ without children.

    And meanwhile, in my personal world, people who don’t know me well sure wonder why the hell I’m sacrificing myself and my kids, and my husband to this. The answer is fourfold:

    (1) human beings are put on earth to create thing and it is my duty to create.

    (2) my kids will learn immeasurably by walking this journey with me and my husband will have a happy wife,

    (3) I truly believe, to my core, that the world will be a better place when my vision comes to life

    (4) the investors who believed in me early will have money flying out of every orifice when we’re all said and done.

    I am serving a market that is grossly underserved. And it is a segment that no one who doesn’t look and smell like me can understand.

  19. Barbara Magnoni
    April 20, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Would you have had second thoughts if it were a man or woman with a very active social life? Who ran marathons on the side? Who built model airplanes obsessively or who spent their evenings watching sports or playing hours of video games? Perhaps that describes many other entrepreneurs with other things in their lives who may be equally distracted by them. Where do we draw the line in expecting people to invest 100% of their time and energy in their business? Should we assume that raising kids takes more energy and less sleep? I know many people with good childcare who might disagree and I know many people (mostly men) who spend late nights in front of a screen not working and loosing sleep. Life outside work relieves lots of pressure and stress from work. It benefits our work life. As a mom and entrepreneur, I know I havent let any problem bother me for more than a few hours because I have to learn to drop it. Its an amazing skill that makes me amazingly resiliant!

    • April 20, 2011 at 2:02 am

      Barbara – yes, if someone were interviewing with me and said “BTW, I’m going to take off this Summer and volunteer for [INSERT virtuous activity]” I’d have second thoughts. In fact, I’ve passed on many men who aren’t focused; I’ve passed on guys who had too many side projects; or the worst – founders trying to build two (or even three) companies at the same time.

  20. April 20, 2011 at 3:03 am

    Hey Jessica! CONGRATULATIONS!!! How well i know this journey! When my sister and I co-founded Magellan [first search engine in 1993] and worked all the hours that g-d gave, when we finally sold the company and Excite gave me a goodbye party, my then 11 year old son came, and when the time came for speeches, he gave one – which started out something like, as he looked around the room with his big blue eyes…. “I don’t know if you all realize, if you all realize how hard my mom worked” – what a line from him, i was tearing up completely! What parent hasn’t felt the *guilt* at leaving their offspring to work – – but he noticed it! Just thought I’d share this…. our kids learn many things from their parents and moms, including a work ethic ! Power on, Jessica and Paige – Warmest regards, Isabel Maxwell

  21. April 20, 2011 at 3:19 am

    I appreciate the awareness around this question, but I don’t think an investor should feel bad in any way about addressing this along with any other issue of similar weight. It’s common knowledge that a baby is guaranteed to be a huge new aspect of anyone’s life and it should be perfectly acceptable to discuss the founder’s plans for dealing with this.

    And yes, in traditional situations a newborn is more likely to have a larger impact on a woman over a man. It doesn’t make sense to me that we would pretend that this is not the case. There are plenty of statistics for this. A healthy way of dealing with this issue would be to be aware of it (which is something a post like this helps), to have examples of women (and men for that matter) who have successfully dealt with this, and to discuss strategies for managing life with a newborn.

  22. April 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for the article and honest approach. To your question, should give preference to women? No, preference is something that should be earned, and giving women the right to earn your preference seems to be something you are doing…

    But by giving preference because of gender, you are still continuing the stereotype; you can’t make things equal by skewing your preference, you have to remove the preference, the choices wired into you, between men and women. Give them an equal plane to approach you, share their merits, and rise or fall…I know you know this, but the question shows that what’s driving you doesn’t understand it. Women should be appreciated for success like men.

    Real question is, are you going to ask men if they take half the load of raising a child, or as pointed out in the video, do they leave that up to the woman? Apply this question to men you are hiring and see the result, because I bet the men who take equal responsibility are better to hire than those who don’t….

    And as Sandberg shows, she has two children and was chosen to run the biggest company in social media for a reason; she can back it up, and have children.

    What I want to know is how should we as men deal with this?

    I was raised in a family of 6 sisters, so to me this is sort of second nature to me, or I wouldn’t have survived ;-). First, be sure to give women opportunity, which you do, and appreciation for their success just like you would a man. That bias against women who are successful is heavily ingrained in us as a society, and just recognizing the bias is important.

    In terms of pregnancy, stop looking at it as the end for women, and listen to the women herself, again which you did. And from Sandberg’s speech, when you have such inequality in a society, even though we’ve come a long way, recognize we have longer ways to go. As men we have to make sure that the comments and attitudes we have to successful women, mostly stereotyped, are limiting, and that women can do many things we don’t understand if we let them.

    Most importantly, when men start using put down names like chicks and babes for high profile women, it’s always trying to knock them down a peg. What are we scared of? We’re probably scared because we know they would be an able competitor if not for the belief systems of many people, so we try to extend those belief systems. Without getting all up in their face, help them recognize this prejudice, and don’t let this undercurrent of sexism and male competitiveness rule, because it is not the strongest path to success.

    A business is a well oiled machine that works together as a team, and rewards based on performance and ability to work with others on the team. Stop looking at them as men and women, and start looking at them as people with equal capabilities, and you’ve gone a long way.

    Thanks for opening up the idea gate…

    PS In response to this question, Really interesting answers to whether a pregnant founder should be fired on Quora, http://www.quora.com/Is-it-wrong-to-fire-an-unvested-co-founder-who-becomes-pregnant-at-a-startup?q=pregnant+founder

  23. April 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Sometimes honesty hurts, but it is refreshing to hear your side of this important issue. Having worked my entire life in a “man’s” job, first as a currency trader in NYC in the late 70’s, (I was almost always the only woman in the trading room), and now as a USCG licensed captain, making a living by delivering yachts & teaching boat handling, I have unfortunately become accustomed to the face of this attitude. I have learned to see it for what it is, even when not spoken out loud.

    I was purchasing a vessel for my new start-up business this weekend and ran smack into it again. I had brought a (male) friend with me to look at the vessel, and the seller addressed all of his comments to my friend, despite the fact that I was the one with the checkbook and I was the one with all the questions.

    But what to do? I have learned that getting angry is not really very productive, so I told my friend thanks for coming along and that I would handle the sea trial by myself. At that point the seller knew who he was actually working with, and the sale went off without a hitch.

    I find it unbelievable that such educated ‘equality minded” professional men & women could still be living in the 1950’s. Raising children is Not the end of a woman’s life. Strong women in CEO positions got there because they are strong, & don’t become overcooked pasta just because they give birth! I congratulate Jessica for her strength, and hope that you will take a closer look at those deep seeded attitudes lurking in the business world, whether it be a large corporation, or small business. Best of luck to you.

  24. Anon
    April 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Though I’m thrilled that you finally decided to invest with this company, and brought up your issue with the CEO, it is extremely frustrating for me to read this as a woman in this industry. It sounds like she handled it with great poise. I think you certainly should have brought it up, but you should equally bring up the same question with any male CEO who’s partner is pregnant or who has a newborn.

    I had my son four days after the last exam first semester at a top business school. Many people, including my father tried to get me to delay business school which is ridiculous; the timing was carefully planned to avoid just the situation you are describing. Barring any medical problems, which can happen to anyone at any time, pregnancy does not prevent someone from starting or running a company effectively.

    I know as a man, who never has and never will carry a baby around, it must seem really difficult and admittedly lots of women like to complain about pregnancy. But we also complain when our knee hurts or our hair gets wet ;). Having been through pregnancy during the most mentally strenuous and stressful time of my life thus far, I would like to point out that the only real difference between me as a pregnant woman and any of my classmates was that I couldn’t drink alcohol, smoke, eat sushi, or play violent or extreme sports. While they were out partying I was either the designated driver or home studying more.

    After the baby was born there was really no difference between my husband and I, as we are partners. I was back at school the first day of second semester just as any of my male classmates with newborns would have been.

    I really fail to see how a woman having a newborn is any different than a man (except for maybe breastfeeding?). My husband loves my son just as much as I do and does even more of the housework/childcare as I’m type A and hes more type B.

    This is certainly not meant to chide, I think you had a valid concern given your lack of pregnancy experience and you absolutely did the right thing. I just wish we could get the word out there that being pregnant is not that big of a deal, and that a young entrepreneur who’s committed to their company is just that, regardless of whether or not a baby is involved. I’d like to think I can go through my career the same way a young father would without having to worry about whether a bump in my tummy will defer investors (I know, its not realistic, but it should be).

  25. April 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I’ve lived this story, too. When our kids were in late elementary and early junior high, our business was at a point where it was past raw startup, where i provide the energy and into growth mode, where i provide only targeted leadership in some areas, but am no longer integral to value creation. so i stayed at home and worked while rosa lee worked with the growing number of employees at the office. they liked the fact that i was home when they came home from school but have yet to say anything good about my cooking (i had four recipes).when they were in high school, we sold that business and rosa lee had three years of deep involvement with them in high school. and i did another startup. i think couples work this out in the way that makes sense. or they don’t. but it’s not one parent’s responsiblity. we shared parenting pretty deeply when they were young, too and we worked together. i think understanding what the family situation is going to be is part of risk assessment. gender is secondary to knowing if the entrepreneur can manage, with what support system, two big sometimes crushing responsibilities.

    parenting a teenager through puberty was harder than any other part of being a parent. but nobody thinks to ask you about what kind of distraction you have at that point.

  26. April 22, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Jessica thank you for your post and for bringing this discussion a valued perspective. It’s amazing that here in 2010 some old attitudes and stereotypes still exist.

    I’m a mom to two boys, and an entrepreneur launching a new business. All I can say is, technology today DOES make the balancing act easier, regardless of your gender.

    Best of luck to you and congratulations on your pending new arrivals!

  27. April 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm


    Thanks for your open and honest feelings. I think we all, for various reasons, have our own set of predetermined judgement. It’s great that you were able to coherently think through your bias and make a sound decision.

    We need more people discussing these types of difficult topics. Awareness and discussion is a great step in shifting the status quo.

  28. May 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Paige, thanks for being honest. I know a lot of people (probably men) think about this issue when hiring women, investing in their companies, or forming JVs.

    What bothers me is that after 90 years of women’s suffrage, marches, demonstrations, people think like they are in the stone age. Women = are caretakers, make food, have boobies; Men = are hunters, scratch balls, have sex

    Are you saying that a women who gets married, she’s unable to do her job at full potential? By the mere fact of having a woman who *could* have a child, you’re weary of investing in her company?


    Are you terrified that women cannot multitask? Would you ever think that of a man who got married or had a child? If that answer is no or uncertain, then you are a sexist. No matter how great you think you are “equal opportunity,” you are a sexist for willingly not wanting to invest in a company because of a fetus (even if you did invest at the end).

    Perhaps you should ask men these questions:
    1. Do you play fantasy football? NCAA bracketing?
    2. Do you party hard and come to work hungover?
    3. Do you drink more than three times a week?
    4. Are you gay? (Because with two gay dads, one has to be the ‘mom’ right??)
    5. Since you’re black, do you have a criminal background or does your family have financial problems?

    These questions either are answers to billions of dollars in time wasting (#1-3) or extreme stereotyping (#4-5).

    Now, why don’t you ask these questions to women:
    Since you’re a women, you plan to have kids?
    Does having a fetus in your womb impede your ability to work?
    Does having a vagina impede your ability to work hard and do your best?

    Because when you have a shadow of doubt in your head à la a pregnant women, you’re answering YES to all of these questions.

    And that makes me, a 29 year old women, sad.

    I always grew up that women were no different to men. My parents never made gender comments even though I’m of Indian descent and grew up in a traditional family. My father believed if I wanted to build a company and become a millionaire, then start working your ass off.

    But I can work as hard and passionately all my life but when people with your similar viewpoints around exist, it squashes ability to move forward in life.

    We don’t allow or condone discussions around race (hey! we don’t hire Jews or Indians because they’re rich) because that’s not only racist but a disgusting human emotion of hatred.

    Why do we permit people to be openly sexist towards women then?

    Why should I, as a women, even bother to start a company, get an MBA, make a million if so much sexism exists at the workplace? I do it because I always consider myself equal to everyone else, man or woman. (BTW, I work in tech so I know what’s it like to be the only women in the room)

    And maybe I’m deluded because I think those things shouldn’t matter. Passion, hard work, dedication, great ideas, that should matter.

    I know you are going to be raked over the coals for your post but I am at least glad that a male brings up the discussion of women in the workplace.

    The real question should be: Why do we allow sexism in the workplace when considering Jews/blacks/Hindus as inferior is unacceptable?

  29. Charles Bronson
    June 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    You need to invest in http://anonymous.me –if only you could figure out who owned it.

  30. Jor
    September 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Great post. Heather Mlodinow once gave an insightful discussion on differences between men and women in the workplace to a group I organized. Topic headline was “When Top Dog is a Bitch”

  31. Rio
    February 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    I wonder what becomes of the fact that ProFounder has indeed closed its doors now…

  32. Tatiana
    June 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Paige, This is Tatiana. We presented Datezr to you at Silicon Beach Fest. You asked me about starting a company as a Date Idea. Trying to find a connection to you I just found this article that you wrote. Interesting that your question is “how should men deal with this”. Why “deal”? Women are not asking for more rights, they are building products/companies that would improve lives of women and men at the same time? And they want their prospective.

    At Datezr, we saw how men select dates, this came out of many many interviews with customers. Then we decided to help them to make better choices, lasting memories that truly build relationships. And as a person in a relationship I see my friends and friends of my co-founder struggle with same thing. If we both help make those choices better through a product we believe more relationships will be created and maintained.

    Every day I wake up with a thought how I can make relationships better, more exciting, fun for people I’ve never met before. For you! I think about how they can tcapture those special moments together. How to make their dates fun and exciting. 75% of our customers are men and they don’t think that way. So yes, you do need females in the workplace. A product manager(female) will focus on the process and results of the task given to them, they won’t think about how to create something, especially when there are already tools in place. If you look into our customer feedback, most of them are men. They love what we are doing and encourage us every day. So your judgement at the competition did not matter. We were presenting not to raise money. We knew its too early for us 😉

    As for a couple team. We love working together. We know each other well, we stay through the toughest times together when normally people would give up. We also have a ton of fun together and bring it into the product. We have our differences, and that’s what helps us see the company from different angles to adjust and make fast iterations.

    I noticed you are very knowledgeable in user generated content. I was wondering if I can have a word with you over email or linkedin.

  1. April 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm
  2. April 20, 2011 at 2:26 am
  3. April 20, 2011 at 3:16 pm
  4. April 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm
  5. April 25, 2011 at 4:18 am
  6. April 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm
  7. May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm
  8. May 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm
  9. June 24, 2011 at 1:04 am
  10. June 30, 2011 at 2:14 am
  11. November 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm
  12. February 4, 2012 at 4:02 am
  13. February 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm
  14. May 10, 2012 at 10:01 am
  15. May 10, 2012 at 10:08 am
  16. May 10, 2012 at 11:09 am
  17. May 10, 2012 at 11:34 am
  18. May 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm
  19. July 23, 2012 at 12:55 am
  20. January 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm
  21. April 5, 2013 at 5:50 pm
  22. May 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm
  23. May 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm
  24. May 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm
  25. August 25, 2013 at 7:31 am
  26. December 19, 2014 at 10:49 pm
  27. May 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm
  28. June 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm
  29. June 26, 2015 at 7:24 pm
  30. August 10, 2015 at 7:43 pm

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